By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) is a Missourian who defies his German father’s devotion to the Union and joins the South as a bushwhacker for Quantrill’s Raiders. He forms a small unit with several friends, and raids the countryside, attempting to do as much (or more) damage to the Northern cause as the Union-Friendly Jayhawkers are doing to the South. They find winter quarters in the woods, and befriend local woman of the female persuasion Sue Lee (Jewel), who falls in love with Jake’s friend Jack Bull (Skeet Ulrich). Jake meets a freedman named Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), who fights alongside the raiders.
Editor’s Note: some quick internet research revealed that a small number of African-Americans did serve in Quantrill’s Raiders, so this isn’t just some cheap Hollywood gimmick.
The two form a bond of unlikely friendship that lasts out the war. One shotgun wedding later, and the credits roll…
Editor’s Note: Just for clarity, Tobey Maguire doesn’t marry Jeffrey Wright.
You’re thinking of the wrong Ang Lee movie…
Ride with the Devil explores the meaning of loyalty, sedition, and duty in a war that divided allegiance. While initially Jake and his friends are devoted to the Southern cause, the meaning of that cause is tested by time, and tragedy. Paying more attention to the quiet moments rather than the bloodshed, Ang Lee’s film focuses on the camaraderie that develops between men at arms. That isn’t to say that there are no scenes of action, but in keeping with the ruthlessness of the Missouri Partisan war, nothing is glorified. It would be false to try to find heroics in the brutal tactics of the Bushwhackers. Contrasting the morally questionable actions of the guerrilla fighters to their close bonds of friendship is a unique approach Lee takes on the Civil War epic. Most of them seem to be written as a series of important sounding, but pointless speeches.
“Now pardon me while I quote Julius Caesar for an hour”
The film’s main weakness is in the two and a half hour running time. There just isn’t enough material here to provide such an epic length. I actually love long movies, when they have a reason for being long. Had I been in the editor’s chair, though, I’d have cut the entire side-plot involving Sue-Lee. These scenes serve no purpose, other than to shoehorn in some romance and to give the film a happy ending.
SPOILERS: Googling “Happy Ending” with safe-search off is a poor decision at work
While slow at times, the overall execution is excellent, and the story contains something quite absent in most Civil War films: character development.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever they make fun of Jake’s German heritage
Drink a Shot: for every racial epithet
Pour one out: in memory of the “glorious” South.
Southern pride built all this…